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A season of irony, gaffes and blunders
Nobody ever said the zany Pac-10 was normal
By: Malamute, 6 December 2002

Did Rick Neuheisel blow it against Michigan? What about his pay raise shortly thereafter? His generous contract extension is one irony that marks this season in Pac-10 play. All in all, it has been a bedeviling season in our hallowed conference, highlighted by coaching gaffes, blown calls and lamentable moments. Malamute has compiled a short list of some of the ironies and faux pas that have smitten conference members, coaches and officials during the long, long season. 

  • Blunderbusses?: A "lost" Angeles Times writer, T.J. Simmers, simmers over the Trojans much the same way Jim Moore of the Seattle Post Intelligencer puts the heat on Dawg fans. And these guys think they invented a ham on rye. The late Jim Murray was the first writer, as I remember, to bait sports fans.

  • Irony: Although losses to USC in the past few years have almost cost Bob Toledo his job at UCLA, he must turn the other cheek and beat WSU on Saturday to keep his job--which will do the Trojans a mighty big favor by sending them to the Rose Bowl.

  • Irony: If UCLA should lose to WSU, the Bruins could end up in the prestigious Holiday Bowl, since two Pac-10 teams would be BCS bound, USC and WSU. Holiday Bowl officials, who have their pick among Pac-10 teams in that case, might want the Bruins because of their local television appeal.

  • Irony: The week after Michigan whipped the U-Dub, it was prematurely announced that Barbara Hedges, Huskies AD, had given coach Rick Neuheisel a whopping big raise; that announcement was juxtaposed with media criticism of the coaching staff that had handed the Wolverines a victory on a silver platter.

  • Blunders: But for two plays, the last-second penalty against the Dawgs in the Michigan game and the Huskies' 4-yard punt against UCLA, the Huskies could easily have been 9-3 at this juncture and possibly headed to the Holiday Bowl.

  • Irony: The Cougars beat the Trojans because of a missed extra point, which would have given 'SC a four-point lead late in the game. However, there are some notable stats. The Cougars out-rushed the Trojans, 201 to 72 yards on the game, and the Trojans, who were leading the nation in total defense going into the game, sacked QB Jason Gesser just once. Maybe that win wasn't as fluky for the Cougs as we thought.

  • Irony: Not only did 'SC hit the "Irish square in the Knute while knocking them flat on their Rockne," but they also left Colorado rolling in the Buff after knocking them flat with a Boulder. Ironically, the game stats were almost identical. USC held both Colorado and Notre Dame to just 4 first downs. Colorado managed 61 total yards against USC, while the Irish accounted for 109 total yards to the Trojans' 610.

  • Blunder? A controversial pass play (call it, "Blew-it Pass") gave the Huskies a victory over the Cougars in the Apple Cup. Did the officials blow it when they ruled that the deflected pass, recovered by the Dawgs, was going backwards and therefore a lateral? A Pac-10 official said "no" after reviewing the Fox replay.

  • Price continues to gaffe: Steve Hensen of the LA Times: “The Call became a convenient scapegoat for a meltdown against a rival, and its effect lingers because (Mike) Price's response was something less than swift and creative.”

    Even though the Pac-10 has said otherwise, Price is still babbling about the call. From Hensen's column, some priceless Price's: “’We won’t forget this game for a long time…A 12-inch pass takes us out of the Rose Bowl… I'm not going to allow a man's decision, an inaccurate call…I hate to see that happen, it wasn't right…I'll get past it, but I'll never forget it.’"

  • Irony: Did the wind and rain in Eugene and the injury to QB Jason Gesser give the Huskies two wins they wouldn't otherwise have had. The Huskies were down two touchdowns to the Ducks when the rain began and 10 points down to the Cougars when Gesser was injured.

  • Blunders: At a time when they still had a chance to win, both Mike Bellotti and Bob Toledo goofed big time when they sent inexperienced QB's into the lions' den, each in the heat of a rivalry game. After being freshly inserted against the Trojans, freshman Matt Moore fumbled the ball away on his own six-yard line, and against the Dawgs, Oregon's redshirt freshman Kellen Clemens, who replaced Jason Fife to start the second half, threw an interception from deep in his own territory. Both goofs led to ensuing touchdowns for the wrong guys.

  • Gaffes: It has become de rigueur in the Pac-10 for a coach to take the blame or partial blame for a loss, to wit, Neuheisel against UCLA, Toledo against the Trojans and Price against the Dawgs. Gaffes? They were all moral victories for those coaches, weren't they?

  • Gaffe: Neuheisel's wanting the game ball after "his" win over Oregon. Give us a break, coach; it was the wrong spin at that moment, considering all of the fans that had jumped off the Huskies' bandwagon, many of them berating Husky players on Internet message boards when they were losing. The win over the Ducks belonged to both the players and coaches.

  • Blunder: After bolting to an 18-point lead, Cal managed to lose by two points to the Trojans. However, a blown call might have decided Cal's fate. An official ruled that a catch by 'SC's Kareem Kelly was a touchdown; however, the TV replay showed Kelly trapping the ball in the endzone. Otherwise, 'SC would have had to settle for a field-goal attempt.

  • Gaffe and blunder: On the ensuing play, after Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts had touted QB Carson Palmer for the Heisman Trophy, Palmer threw an interception against Notre Dame.

  • Gaffe: The eastern mafia says it never has an opportunity to see Pac-10 games because they are played too late in the day (but that's what TIVO is for--for sleepy heads). Hence, that's the reason the Pac-10 hasn't had a Heisman Trophy winner since 1981, so they say. Carson Palmer's demolishment of the Irish on Saturday was played in front of a nationwide television audience. The game started at 4:30 P.M., Eastern Standard Time. Trojan players, who doused Palmer with Gatorade at the end of the game, in essence were blatantly telling the mafia, "In your face. Wake up!" No other explanation. Usually, the head coach gets doused with juice.

  • Bad luck: It would have helped this season, if the Dawgs could have played woeful Stanford, who had only two returning players on defense. Next season, fortunately, ASU is missing from the Huskies' schedule.

  • Irony: Up to this point in the season, WSU, who may be Rose Bowl bound, is last in the conference in time of possession. USC is first. The Trojans lead the conference in total offense and total defense, befitting a conference champion.

  • Irony. Not long ago, Rick Neuheisel was punished by the NCAA for minor recruiting violations that occurred under his tenure as Colorado's head coach. As a result, he can't make any home visitations this recruiting season. Ironically, that punishes the Washington program more than Neuheisel since he can stay at home with the family and avoid those crowded airports. For a recruit who is teetering on the brink of signing, Neu's inputs to the kid and his parents are incalculable.

  • Blunder: Those Coug fans who threw bottles at Husky players and fans after the Apple Cup game. According to an AP report, Barbara Hedges, Washington's AD, said she feared for her life.

  • Bowl Confusion: Supposedly, according to a Big Ten source, Iowa has been guaranteed a BCS bowl appearance. “Before Tuesday's Big Ten getaway,” according to the LA Times, “there were 17 bowls stuck in line waiting for two teams to clear a tollgate: UCLA and Washington State.” Before Tuesday’s announcement, that one game had a direct impact of 17 of the 28 bowl games, so the Times says.

    According to Chris Dufresne of the Times, that now leaves 13 bowls up in the air depending on the outcome of the UCLA/WSU game:  “the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Holiday, Sun, Insight, Las Vegas, Silicon Valley, Seattle, Gator, Continental Tire, San Francisco and Motor City bowls.”

Reference: Hensen, Steve, “For Cougars, ‘The Game’ Will Decide Their Legacy,” The Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2002.

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